Wednesday, 30 November 2011
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
The mystery surrounding the tragic death of Wales manager Gary Speed deepens. Yesterday, his close friend Alan Shearer asked the question everyone needs answered. He said simply: “Why Speedo, didn't you give me or one of your other close mates a ring, if you were feeling so bad?”
And Speed’s agent Hayden Evans, best man at his wedding to wife Louise, failed to cast any further light on the 42-year-old’s apparent decision to hang himself in the garage of his Cheshire home on Saturday night. He said: "Louise is bewildered. They didn’t argue. She just doesn't understand it."
A post-mortem will be held today at 3pm GMT where details of Speed’s death will be clarified. Current reports suggest he may have hung himself at around 11.30pm on Saturday night. Police were called to the house in Huntingdon at 7am on Sunday morning and the news of his death was released just before Swansea City – the only Welsh side in the Premier League - kicked-off their game against Aston Villa.
After a minute’s silence filled with warm applause, Speed’s former Newcastle team-mate, Villa goalkeeper Shay Given, was inconsolable, weeping openly as a 0-0 draw which should never have been played dragged to a conclusion. What was it Bill Shankly said? “Football isn’t life and death. It’s more important than that.” Bollocks.
But the mystery remains. Speed appeared on BBC’s Football Forum in Manchester on Saturday morning, where he talked on air with former Leeds team-mate Gary McAllister, making jokes and promising to play golf next week. He then watched a televised game with Shearer in the studio.
As rumours of a row with Louise and a possible kiss-and-tell story lurking in the tabloids swirled around the internet, Hayden told The Sun this morning: "Gary and Louise were happily married and anyone who knows them will tell you that. This is why it's a mystery.
"We genuinely at the moment have no clue whatsoever what has caused it and I have been with the family all day. Everybody is asking the same question and no one has an answer. We are all in shock."
Many on Twitter have asked if Speed suffered from depression, blamed for the attempted suicides of boxer Frank Bruno and footballer Paul Gascoigne, sportsmen of similar ages over the past decade.
But with Speed taking Wales 70 places up the FIFA rankings in less than a year and widely revered for being a level-headed veteran of 840 games including a record 84 games for his nation before his retirement, there is no suggestion of any mental illness. Never has been.
Hayden, who said Speed was “happy as can be” when they spoke on the telephone on Saturday night, insisted: “Bouts of depression? None whatsoever. The one thing the family and me - as one of his closest friends - would totally refute is that. There was no indication of any problems and never has been."
Shearer is equally mystified. The pair played together at Newcastle for six winters and still take family holidays together. He said: "The question I keep asking myself and have done since I heard the dreadful news is 'Why? Why Speedo, didn't you give me or one of your other close mates a ring, if you were feeling so bad?'
"Why he couldn't have picked up the phone for a chat in those moments before he did what he did, I'll never know. None of us will.
"I was with him on Saturday watching the Stoke game and arranging next weekend.
"He was coming up with his wife to stay at my house. We were going to various charity dinners. I left the studio, shook his hand and said, 'See you next weekend.' Unfortunately I won't."
Shearer, like so many in football this week, is finding the loss of one of the game’s most respected players impossible to accept: "This just doesn't happen to one of your best mates. My wife is in bits. We just keep thinking of Louise, the two boys and his mum and dad. I can't imagine the pain they're going through. I can't get my head around the fact I was with him and he was happy, joking.
"We were having a laugh and joke about golf trips and holidays that we went on together last year. We were planning our next holiday in Portugal next summer with the families and the kids.
"I played against him many times, but when Kenny Dalglish signed him for Newcastle straight away we struck up a relationship. You're bound to have arguments along the way in football — but no one ever did with Gary.
"No one had a bad word for him. He was what you'd describe as a proper bloke, a proper man. You could depend on him."
Monday, 28 November 2011
Yes, the 43-year-old apparently has sheepish Australian great-grandfather to go with the job as Australia’s first foreign national cricket coach.
So next time you see the former Proteas coach being interviewed after a squeaky Test victory, expect to hear him referring to sheep shearing, Kyle Minogue, Dame Edna Everage and sheilas rather than braai vleis, Sonia Herholdt, Evita Bezuidenhout and poppies.
It’s a sad truth that Kevin Pietersen and the gang of Anglo-South Africans – Matt Prior, Craig Kieswetter, Jade Dernbach and Jonathan Trott to naam maar a phew – feel the need to claim some sentimental allegiance rather than just the bright new passport.
But for Mickey to take that road comes as a bit of a shock. He goes into his new job with a series against neighbours New Zealand and I guess we can expect the instant switch of allegiances to go as far as reflecting the usual Aussie disdain for the Kiwis at The Gabba this week.
Arthur took his new job at a fascinating juncture – just hours after Australia had wriggled out of a series defeat against South Africa at The Wanderers, chasing down a record 310 to win the second and final Test by just two wickets.
That they eventually drew the series 1-1 and avoided being the first since Bobby Simpson’s 1970 tourists to lose in South Africa had little to do with soon-to-be-appointed Arthur, more to do with captain Graeme Smith’s bizarre field-placings and bowling changes. No disrespect meant, Biff. Obviously.
John Michael Arthur, born in Johannesburg on May 17, 1968, went to Westville Boys’ High in Durban and scored 6,657 first class runs, including 13 centuries, in a career which was mired largely in Griqualand West and the Free State. He never played for the Proteas.
It was as a coach he truly excelled, leading South Africa from 2005 to 2010, a period which saw the nation rise to the top of the world rankings in Test and One-Day cricket – but when it came to the World Cups, he never quite succeeded in helping the Proteas rid themselves of the infamous “chokers” tag.
He fell out with Cricket South Africa – most do - and eventually moved to Australia to coach the Western Warriors in Perth.
''My great grandfather was Australian and I will be looking to get residency here, so I really do feel I have an affinity with Australia.''
Grasping a contract which will see him through until after the 2015 World Cup, which will be held in Australia and New Zealand, he enthuses: ''To be coaching a team of the ilk of Australia is something I'm very, very proud about. I think I bring an unblinkered view, a view that having coached and analysed against a lot of Australian players during my time, but also having worked in the Australian system for the last year and a half I think I have got pretty much a really good idea of where we need to go with the team and what we need to do to have sustainable success over the next period of time.
''Every team I've ever coached, I've had a view on selection. I think that gives you a lot of credibility in the dressing room.''
His role as a selector leads, of course, to the inevitable question: What to do with former captain Ricky Ponting, who scored just eight runs in three innings this month in South Africa before a defiant – and match-turning – half-century in that epic win at The Wanderers.
Arthur growled: “I'll defer that to the first selection meeting,'' before a slight contradiction of his earlier comments about being an outsider: ''It's hard coming in from the outside without knowing what's going on in the team. We need a lot of information on that, something for (chairman of selectors) John Inverarity to take up.''
Though most cricket-speaking South Africans will wish “King Arthur” well in his new job, while fervently hoping Australia lose every game against his former homeland, Mickey himself concludes: “Australian cricket is in a very exciting phase. There are a lot of good young players coupled with the legends in the senior players. Young players need to be given quality opportunities."
Lest we forget: Arthur guided South Africa to a Test series win over Australia in 2008 - the first by any team on Australian soil in 15 years and a streak of nine unbeaten Test series.
Monday, 21 November 2011
Luke Donald will arrive in South Africa for the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City next week with his life in turmoil.
The world’s number one golfer saw his wife give birth to his second daughter this month – but he suffered the tragedy of losing his father Colin four days before.
On Twitter, Donald said following the birth of Sophia Ann Donald at 2.11am in Chicago on Friday morning, November 11 (11/11/11 for the world No1): "The No 1 has been gd 2 me, no more than 2day."
But after the death of his father, US-based Englishman Donald twittered: “With death there is pain and loss, but out of that comes light and appreciation. Appreciate what you have. I miss you dad x.”
The prolific tweeter was noticeably more cheerful this week, posting: “The best thing about being world No1 is not being No2!” and revealed his best-ever rounds: “61 at Conway Farms. 62 at Spyglass in competition.” Anything close to that will bring the house down at Sun City.
Donald also admitted to once breaking his club – at the tenth while competing in the Air Canada tournament in Vancouver in 2010 - before adding “Alright folks, I'm done. Back to daddy duties. Lost count of the nappies I’ve had to change. Catch u all later. Night tweeps!”
Donald, on the verge of becoming he first player in history to win the money title on both the American the PGA Tour and the European Tour in the same year, has had a week off while the President’s Cup battle rages in Australia.
With the old “Million Dollar Classic” next up, Donald is hoping for success before the final event of the European Tour season at the Dubai World Championship. He revealed he will end his year by competing in the Australia Masters, the final chapter in a prolific year for the boy who won the his local men’s championship at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, England, when he was just 15.
Both Donald and world No2 Lee Westwood, who won at Sun City last year when he was the world No1, will be competing for the $5m winner’s prize at Sun City from December 1-4 – but the two Brits will be up against FOUR major winners in the 12-man field.
World No4 Martin Kaymer of Germany, who won the 2010 US PGA, joins South Africa’s US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and 2010 US Open winner Graeme McDowell as well as current Open champion Darren Clark of Northern Ireland.
Only one American - Jason Dufner – has secured an invitation as the Nedbank Classic compete with Tiger Woods' Chevron Challenge for big names in the first week of December.
There is a Sun City debut for South Korea's world No. 21 Kim Kyung-tae while top-class Scandinavians Anders Hansen, Thomas Bjorn and Robert Karlsson join England’s Simon Dyson to complete the dynamic dozen.
Kaymer, who won the last big tournament – the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai -
is now closing in on Donald, who was forced to bypass Shanghai because of his wife’s pregnancy.
Kaymer , who needs a victory at Sun City to maintain the pressure on the world No1 spot, said: “Obviously Luke is a very nice guy and he deserves to be No 1 in the world. It will be difficult to catch him, but that is what the sport is about, to challenge yourself, challenge the other players that you play with week in, week out, and of course I will try to give him a hard time.
“We’ll see. It’s not easy to get him away from the No 1 spot. It was an okay season, now it’s a good season. I played brilliant golf in Abu Dhabi (to win the HSBC Championship in January), and when I became the No 1 in the world in February after the World Golf Championships event in Arizona, my life has changed a little bit – not only mine, for the people I work with, my family.
“It has been a little awkward sometimes, because I was just not used to being in the spotlight. It took some time to get used to it, and hopefully it will happen again, because I know what’s going to happen, I know how to approach that.”
Saturday, 19 November 2011
Basil D'Oliveira. Cape Town docks, just after the Millennium, during England's disastrous cricket tour of 1999/2000 - you know, the one when "honest" Hansie Cronje engineered a result in Centurion after the Proteas had won the series.
And there he was. Dolly. My idol. The man who simply refused to accept he couldn't play Test cricket for his own country. Banned by the brutal Apartheid regime from becoming the world-famous all-rounder he so plainly was.
Forced to play for a "non-white" South Africa against Uganda and Kenya. Brought up on dusty township strips, but still a prodigious batter and a more than average bowler. He scored an estimated 80 tons on the rough matting wickets around the Cape before he was eventually allowed to play on grass.
Basil D'Oliveira, the cricketer BJ Vorster couldn't bowl over, the man who brought racism to the world's attention. Whose legacy led to the Peter Haine-led sporting isolation which ultimately resulted in ridiculous rebel tours, flour bombs at All Black Test matches and headlines around the world.
To my mind, as a sports journalist, one of the most valuable weapons in the battle against man's inhumanity to man. Apartheid. Aparthate. Great man, Dolly.
Our chat, with the gloriously bearded and now-deceased Mirror cricket writer Chris Lander, ranged from the mundane to the magnificent. Drinks were drunk. Dolly sparkled and shone. One of the great nights.
And now, at 80, the great man has died in England. Even back then, the first signs of Parkinson's Disease were apparent, though not dominant. They had a moment's silence at The Wanderers on day three of the second Test against Australia in his honour. He deserved black armbands, posters, television documentaries, the works. Perhaps they will follow.
Dolly's unique history cannot be written without reference to Apartheid. To his being classified "coloured" by a regime who put a pencil in your hair and a ruler down your nose to decide if you could vote or not. He was part India, part Portuguese, all African.
Born near Signal Hill in Cape Town on October 4, 1931 (though there are rumours he's actually three years older, making him a Test debutant at 39), Basil Lewis D'Oliveira was an all-round sportsman, not just a cricketing all-rounder. He played football and cricket for the "non-white" international sides but was shunned by the established white professional associations.
But enter John Arlott, the grand gentleman of cricket. He was the man credited with easing Dolly from St Augustine's Cricket Club to Middleton, a club playing in the Central Lancashire League in 1960, at a time when non-white emigration was rare and frowned upon by the National Party government.
Dolly wrote to Arlott, the voice of cricket in the 60s and Arlott said later: “What opportunity was there for a cricketer, denied by the laws of his native country organised coaching; parental financial capacity to afford proper gear; the use of a grass wicket or a safe outfield; the opportunity to take part in a first-class match or to play against opponents experienced at such a level?”
A journalist called John Kay eased his path in chilly Lancashire, where he and wife Naomi later to remark on his surprise at seeing white people doing menial work and working as waiters in restaurants. Middleton only signed "Bas" when their scheduled professional failed to turn up... and the money wasn't good. Back in Cape Town, charity matches were held to fund his new life in England. Unfazed by his social elevation (from second class citizen in the land of his birth to ordinary bloke in a foreign land), Dolly was soon spotted by Worcestershire after topping the league batting averages ahead of a West Indian bloke by the name of Garfield Sobers.
He scored a century on his county debut, and another in his second appearance. Naturalisation as an true British citizen followed and after two prolific seasons at New Road, England came calling after he was named one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year in 1967.
Despite whispers about his nationality from the conservatives at Lord's, "Bas" made his England debut against the West Indies at the age of 35. Who knows what would have happend had he stepped on the world stage in his twenties? He got 27 and a wicket at Lord's in that first Test, three successive 50s followed.
And now we remember the mythical 158, scored at just the right time to earn selection for the 1968-69 tour to South Africa. Somehow, the selectors contrived to leave him out. Rumours raged... until a chap called Tom Cartwright pulled out injured... and Dolly had his rightful place on the boat to Cape Town, his home town.
Then Balthazar Johannes Vorster, the South African president, made the worst call of his generally undistinguished political career. He was in Bloemfontein when he heard the news that D'Oliveira had been picked for England. Having been assured at the highest levels that the "coloured South African" would not be selected, BJ growled: "The team as constituted now is not the team of the MCC it is the team of the anti-Apartheid movement."
The world had heard enough. England promptly called off the tour, and the Peter Haine-led sporting boycott of South Africa, which hurt sports-mad South Africans so badly for 25 years, began. It would not end until the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the rush to democracy in 1994.
Dolly went on to play 44 Tests for England, the highlight being the Ashes tour to Australia in 1970, when he famously wandered up to every Aussie available to push a finger in their chest and tell them: "We stuffed you!" after a 2-0 series win.
Years later, just after our meeting in Cape Town, Dolly was named one of the 10 South African cricketers of the century - despite being denied the chance to represent his country.
Even now, the Test series between England and South Africa are known as the battle for the "Basil D'Oliveira Trophy."
In 2005 he became a Commander of the British Empire in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. And the same year, they named the stand after him at Worcester's New Road ground.
Friday, 18 November 2011
Bafana Bafana captain Steve Pienaar insists he has “mixed feelings” but “no regrets” over his R35m move from Everton to Tottenham Hotspur in January.
Pienaar, voted Player of the Year by fans at Goodison Park in 2010, chose not to sign a new deal at Everton and moved to Spurs in a cut-price deal with just six months left on his contract.
But injury and selection problems – he was always going to have trouble forcing his way past a fit Gareth Bale on the left of Harry Redknapp’s midfield – have seen him play just one game for Spurs this season. And that was in a second-string Europa League outfit in the defeat against Rubin Kazan in Russia just before the international break.
Pienaar, outstanding in South Africa’s 1-1 draw against Africa’s No1 side Ivory Coast in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, told The Independent on his return to England his week: “Yes, it’s been a bumpy road at White Hart Lane. It has been a year of mixed feelings, but hopefully I can make it a successful move. Don’t have to show the Spurs fans what I can do, they’ve seen me play against them for Everton.”
But Pienaar rejected a late bid from Chelsea to move to their London neighbours – and ignored warnings from Everton boss David Moyes that he would live to regret his decision to leave Liverpool. But the 29-year-old from Westbury near Johannesburg said: "Regrets? No, not at all. It was a very hard decision to make. It was hard to leave Everton as club and Liverpool as a city. The people I had around me, the players, most of the supporters were very good to me, and I will always be grateful to them.
"It was hard to go, but in life you have to make decisions. I made this one as a footballer and as a human being, and I don't have any regrets about what I chose to do. Not at all."
Pienaar, who left South Africa’s Ajax Cape Town for their mother club in Amsterdam before moving to Borussia Dortmund, was once told he would never play football again when he suffered a serious nerve injury.
He admits: "I had a tough time at Ajax. When I damaged my nerve, they said I'd never play again. I came back strong. I had a difficult spell at Dortmund, and I came back strong. Things like that help you appreciate the things that you do have.
“Being a footballer is only a short career. Having been through all of that helps me appreciate the time I am on the field. It drives you to fight for your place.
“Harry Redknapp (currently off sick for a month after heart surgery) has been very supportive. I want to be part of this team, and I want to show I did not come here by mistake. I have come back twice already, and I will come back again.”
Pienaar has proved he can return from adversity before. Ever since he was first spotted by the Ajax scouts playing for Westbury Arsenal – not a name his current club will enjoy – Pienaar has shown durability, a willingness to succeed despite the odds.
Now running a charity for jailed Johannesburg teenagers, Pienaar offers this explanation of his bouncebackability: "When I grew up in Westbury it was the toughest place in South Africa outside of Soweto. The crime rate was high and life expectancy was short.
"Because our house was in the area where the drug gangs hang out, they'd say to me 'You be our look-out. If you see someone you don't know, whistle.' Sometimes I'd get involved but I was more afraid of my mum than the gangs.
“If she found money in my pockets she'd want to know where it came from. I'd say we'd played football against other boys for money. It was difficult to stay out of trouble. It was a dodgy area and the temptation was huge. I'd be so envious of the boys who'd turn up with new sneakers from their drugs money. But I knew I'd get a hiding from my mum if I got involved.
"Now I realise how fortunate I was to have a mum who was always on my case to get an education. She brought up four children on her own and it was because she was strict we escaped gangs and drug dealers."
Thursday, 17 November 2011
Hold the black arm bands: The sad closing chapter in Peter Roebuck's life exposed by his final victim
A two-hour meeting at a Cape Town hotel followed before the inevitable. Gondo claims Roebuck "pinned him to the bed and launched a sickening sex assault" according to the Sun newspaper in London.
Gondo, who was not paid for his revelations, said the attack finally came to a halt when his telephone rang. He claims: "I was in shock and told myself that it couldn't be happening."
Gondo, traumatised by Roebuck's attack, then reported the incident to the police, bringing a charge of sexual assault. When the police arrived to question him, Roebuck called a friend for legal help - and when his colleague returned, Roebuck had departed through the window.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
Peter Roebuck threw himself out of a sixth-floor hotel room window at around 9pm on Saturday night. His death at 55, while covering Australia’s cricket tour of South Africa, sparked a plethora of glowing tributes from cricket writers all over the world.
A decent opening bat and superb scribe, such eulogies failed to spark any feeling in this writer – and I suspect many cricket followers around the world felt the same. It turns out a uniformed policeman was questioning Roebuck at the time of his death in Cape Town.
We will never know for sure, but the word from a good source is this: the cop was questioning him about yet another sexual assault in a city where penniless young men are known to offer themselves to rich tourists to earn a few rand. He called a cricket-writing colleague to demand a lawyer then, with the policeman still in the room, he leapt to his death.
A great cricket writer yes. A great man? No. He spent his life calling a spade a spade on the cricket field but in the end, he dug his own grave.
Roebuck, one of many first class cricketers who forged a career after attending the fantastically privileged Millfield School in Somerset, was a bespectacled sort who first came to the world’s attention when he got rid of Ian Botham, Viv Richards and Joel Garner when he was captain of his county.
That was my first interview with the bloke, back in 1986. As I went in to the treatment room in Taunton to chat to him one-to-one for the Sunday Mirror, a young Somerset player at the time, who prefers now to remain nameless, jokingly warned me to “watch my bottom”.
The discussion went well. I came to no harm. I kept my back to the wall, I guess. I was young and naive. I didn't get a spanking but that comment stuck with me. Roebuck, everybody in the cricket world knew, was “dodgy” like so many other British public schoolboys who grew up in a boys-only school with jock-straps and lewd magazines for company.
Of course, he was right to banish Botham, Richards and Garner from the County Ground, he told me. They thought they were bigger than the club. The former England Public Schools captain neglected to mention the book he’d written with the great Beefy, how he’d clung on to Botham’s coat tails to get where he got.
While Botham was flamoboyant and popular, Roebuck was considered dull and unimaginative, though he did once captain England at a time when nobody else wanted to. Against the Netherlands. Unthinkably, they lost.
In all ways, removing the titanic trio from Taunton was simply a case of Roebuck asserting his personality on a thriving county cricket team that took years to recover from his machinations.
Roebuck retired from professional cricket in 1991 and went to captain Devon, a minor county in the English cricketing set-up. That he had tactical nous – and a penchant for writing about the game – was never in question.
But then the dark secret began to emerge. In 2001 he was convicted of “common assault” against three young South African cricketers who had come over to coach and learn the game (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1359991/Ex-Somerset-captain-caned-young-cricketers.html). Keith Whiting, Reginald Keats and Henk Lindeque, who were all 19 at the time, were procured while Roebuck was working overseas as a commentator. Roebuck persuaded them to live at his house while they were “under instruction”.
The first victim said at the time that Roebuck asked him to bend over and delivered three “forceful strokes” for failing to do his daily excercises properly.
The legal counsel at Taunton Crown Court said: “Roebuck then pulled the boy towards him, in what appeared to be an act of affection. He then asked if he could look at the marks on the boy’s buttocks, something which he in fact did.”
The second teenager was beaten by Roebuck when he failed to keep up on a run. He, too, was left feeling “considerable distress and humiliation”.
The third boy received similar treatment, being beaten by Roebuck and asked to show the marks.
The second boy, now living South Africa, said: “I did not consent to any assault but he is a dominant person who makes you feel that you must do as he says.”
Roebuck was originally accused of indecent assault for those acts, which occurred between April and the end of May in 1999. He eventually pleaded guilty to common assault. Tellingly, the judge said: “It was not appropriate to administer corporal punishment to boys of this age in circumstances such as these. It seems so unusual that it must have been done to satisfy some need in you.”
Roebuck said he warned the three South Africans he would use corporal punishment if they failed to obey his “house rules” adding he though they were “from a culture in which corporal punishment was accepted”.
Roebuck was sentenced to four months in jail for each count, with the sentences suspended for two years. Roebuck’s defence counsel insisted “more than 20 other promising young cricketers” had stayed at Roebuck’s house while receiving coaching and had never complained about any inappropriate behaviour.
Knowing his proclivities were now out of the closet, Roebuck began spending most of his time in Australia. There, his objective, hard-hitting writing went down well with the Sydney Morning Herald – and he was snapped up as a commentator for the ABC.
Soon, he was referring to Australia as “us” rather than England. He could offer withering critique of the fading Aussie cricket machine without fear of being contradicted.
And he could use his status as a public figure to continue his wicked ways. Strangely, where so many others would have been questioned over their criminal record, Fairfax newspapers and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation never bothered to check in to Roebuck’s past.
Look, Peter Roebuck was a fine cricket writer. But he used his status to procure vulnerable young men. That’s fact. The manner of his death and the reasons behind it will probably be hushed up. Cricket’s like that. Hansie Cronje and Bob Woolmer ditto. Some may feel we should consider Roebuck’s talents in his obituary. I think we should focus on the truth.
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
The Booooooths will soon be ringing around South African football stadiums once more. Matthew Booth, the towering centre-back released by Mamelodi Sundowns at the end of last season, has finally signed for Ajax Cape Town after “protracted negotiations” in the boardroom.
With rookie boss Maarten Stekelenburg struggling to live up to the standards set by the Urban Warriors under Foppe de Haan, Booth’s calm assurance at the back may help the club get over their shock Telkom Knock-out quarter-final defeat at the hands of the lowly Golden Arrows in Cape Town last weekend.
Booth’s first outing won’t be easy though. After the international break, Ajax resume their faltering league campaign against runaway leaders SuperSport United on 18 November. Ajax were denied the title on the final day of last season – this term under Stekelenburg, they are currently eighth, a full ten points adrift of Gavin Hunt’s frontrunners.
Fish Hoek-born Booth, 34, was first spotted in the Cape Town Spurs junior ranks in 1994 - his dad Paul played amateur football for Fish Hoek FC. Booth ended up playing 92 games for Spurs between 1994 and 1998 before his first foray at Sundowns. The lure of foreign football saw an unsuccessful loan spell at rugged English club Wimbledon when they were in the top flight before going east to Russian, where he played 52 games for Rostov and 107 for Krylia Sovetov.
His return to Sundowns was hampered by a career-threatening knee injury early this year. Though he claimed to have regained full fitness, he was “let go” around the time Johan Neeskens arrived to take over the Brazilians.
That acrimonious exit left the 1.98m (6ft 6in) bitter and bewildered but the sun didn’t quite go down on the big man - he battled back and has been happily training with hometown club Ajax for nearly two months. Before last year’s World Cup in South Africa Booth – married to Pimville beauty Sonia - was used in an advertising campaign as the “Face of Africa” and featured heavily in promotions with LG and Vodacom, see what I wrote at the time http://neal-collins.blogspot.com/2010/04/matthew-booth-unexpected-face-of-south.html.
American and Spanish journalists at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa thought Booth was being booed every time he touched the ball for Bafana – until it was explained the word Boooooth has a final syllable.
At the time, his wife Sonia said: "The foreign journalists thought it was a racist thing. I just laughed. But part of me wanted to say, 'They're not booing him. He's my husband, and trust me, I know!'"
Though he was picked in Carlos Alberto Parreira’s World Cup squad of 23 and featured in the final friendly against Denmark in Atteridgeville, Booth failed to play a single minute as South Africa became the first host nation not to reach the knock-out stages. Parreira effectively ended his international career after an 11 year period which included the 2000 Olympics and 37 full caps.
Booth, who agreed personal terms with Ajax a month ago, told kickoff.com last week: “Everything is going well. I played my first 45 minutes against Santos in a friendly game at the weekend and came through okay, even though I am still not sharp.
“We have another friendly game against Hanover Park and I am looking forward to another nice game. Ajax has a good medical team and they are looking after me very well.”
But the signing was delayed at boardroom level with Booth finally signing a contract until the end of the season – it will be extended for a further two years if he can prove his fitness.
Stekelenburg said after the belated pen had been put to paper: “Matthew’s experience on and off the field is something we are looking for. He is a fantastic player who adds some things that we currently lack in our squad.
“Our young players will learn a lot from him. We feel that Matthew adds balance to our current squad and look forward to him being part of our team. His presence and height will strengthen our defensive aerial power.”
Club CEO George Comitis said: “Matthew will add tremendous value to the club, especially in guiding the young players from our academy.
“We always first look at our youth academy for additions to our squad but we knew we needed an experienced defender.”
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
May Mahlangu: Sadly, South Africa's only current world class player won't be playing against the Ivory Coast on Saturday
While captain Steven Pienaar struggles to get a game for Spurs, centre-back Bongani Khumalo languishes on loan at Reading and veteran striker Benni McCarthy - 34 this week - has opted out of international football, May Mahlangu can rightly claim to be the Rainbow Nation's only world class player right now.
Currently plying his trade with Swedish outfit Helsingborgs IF, Mahlangu was awarded Sweden's Player of the Year accolade at a lavish ceremony on Monday night - barely 24 hours after scoring a wondergoal and being named Man of the Match in the Swedish Cup final last weekend.
While beleaguered Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane dithers over his selection to play Africa's No1 ranked side in Port Elizabeth this weekend, he continues to ignore Mahlangu, who has been selected for Shakes Mashaba's troubled Baby Bafana - the under 23 side formerly known as AmaGlugGlug are headed to the Olympics in London next year - for the pair of friendlies in Algeria on November 12 and 15. Sadly, due to "injuries" and "non-co-operation from the clubs" that squad currently boasts just eight players as of last night.
But that won't trouble Mahlangu, after a season which has seen his club win the Swedish League and Cup double for the first time since 1941. His performances alongside established star Adrian Gashi at the Olympia Stadium have been little short of sensational - a Scandinavian Lionel Messi some say.
Farouk Khan, the scout who first spotted Mahlangu as a talented but penniless orphan in Secunda, Mpumalanga over a decade ago, said on South Africa's 702 radio station this morning: "We spotted May early on. Both his parents had died so he came to live with us for six years.
"When Helsingborgs came along they were first interested in signing a certain striker called Siyabonga Nomvete, one of our players, about ten years ago. But when they arrived and saw the standard of our academy, they decided not to buy Nomvete and chose to invest in our teenagers instead."
Khan, who runs a scouting school known as the Stars of Africa Academy, also unearthed Tokelo Rantie, the Orlando Pirates super-sub who came to light a fortnight ago with a superb late winner against Jomo Cosmos in Port Elizabeth.
Khan added: "Helsingborgs helped us financially for some years before the Swedish Krona devalued and they had to pull out. But they always kept an eye on our youngsters. And then they asked May to go over and play. He made his debut in August 2009.
"It's been fabulous for him this season. He was the best player, never got substituted and he scored in their cup final, now he has been voted their player of the year by the players and the journalists.
"He isn't a big lad (173cm, 5ft 8in) but he is quick, very quick. And so fit. We did the usual tests on him and realised that if he wasn't a footballer, he could easily be a marathon runner. That's how impressive his fitness readings were. The best we have ever seen."
Fitness is only half of it. Last Sunday, May Sifiwe Mahlangu, 22 on May 1 (hence the name), produced that cup final super-strike, beating six defenders to find the net after starting a run from his own half as Helsingborgs beat rivals Kalmar FF 3-1 to complete a magnificent treble. They won the Super Cup at the start of the season and ran away with the Allsvenskan League title as Mahlangu played in every minute of the 26 games he was available for. His side lifted their first championship in 14 years without losing a home game and finished five points clear of nearest rivals AIK Solna as they secured a Champions League place for next season.
Helsingborg coach Conny Karlsson, installing him in the attacking midfield role at the start of the season after he played 19 games in his first term at the club, said he would build his squad around the unknown South African - and he never regretted a moment. Mahlangu scored five goals in 35 games and produced the most assists in the league.
Karlsson purred: "With Mahlangu, we have won everything you can win in Sweden this season. Somebody may match that one day, but you can't do any better."
Monday, 7 November 2011
Terry race row escalates as Ferdinand receives "graphic" death threat and Capello is told to stay silent
The John Terry race row saga has escalated still further with the news that victim Anton Ferdinand has received an “extremely graphic” death threat and England boss Fabio Capello has been warned NOT to talk about the case by the Met Police in London.
With the Spain friendly looming at Wembley on Saturday – England have enjoyed crushing the world champions at what they like to call the home of football – Capello opted to pick Terry in his squad last night.
But the Italian “generalissimo” opted to axe Wayne Rooney – who will be suspended for the first three games of Euro 2012 next year – and, ironically, Anton’s brother Rio.
Should the FA and the Met Police decide Terry is guilty of calling QPR’s Anton “a f***ing black c***” – and from what I saw on YouTube before the Premier League removed the footage, he certainly did – Terry will surely be withdrawn from the game.
The FA have run a “Kick It Out” campaign against racism for the past six years and it appears to be working with monkey chants and banana throwing reduced to a tiny minority of moronic fans. From the days of the early 80s when black players were targeted, English football has moved to a more civilised level where black players are barely accused of anything other than blinding talent.
The thought of Terry playing in a prestige friendly at Wembley against the 2010 FIFA world champions is simply not acceptable after his regrettable outburst – and the way he attempted to wriggle out of the situation by getting Ashley Cole to enter the QPR dressing room on October 23, where the Chelsea captain assured Rio’s little brother: “We’re all okay, right?”
Terry then tried to explain his outburst was in response to Ferdinand accusing him of calling him a “fbc”... but Anton has since emerged to insist he did no such thing. The first Anton heard of the racist remark was when friends directed him to the YouTube footage. Ferdinand has since reported his side of the story to the FA and the Met Police have stepped in after a complaint from a member of the public.
But that is not the end of the matter. Chelsea fans in Genk, Belgium last week chanted further racist drivel against Anton and today the Sun and the Daily Telegraph in England reveal an “extremely graphic” death threat delivered by hand to QPR’s Acton training ground last Friday.
Police say Anton, 26, and “members of his close family” must now fit a panic alarms at their homes along with further “immediate precautionary measures”.
The Met are trying to track down the “sicko” who sent the death threat – club officials decided Anton himself should not read the contents.
In a further development – which I also revealed in my regular Monday morning slot on eNews in South Africa yesterday morning – England boss Fabio Capello has been instructed not to comment on the row.
On Saturday, Capello told the Sunday newspapers: “In my experience I have never seen, never heard and never found racism problems in England football. Racist problems between the players do not exist."
But Capello now appears to have been silenced – and the police have also urged Liverpool and Manchester United not to answer questions on the scandalous use of the n-word by Uruguayan Luis Suarez against Patrice Evra a week before the Loftus Road incident.
Amid a growing call to punish racism in sport – particularly after Tiger Woods’ ex-caddie Steve Williams was revealed to have used the words “black arsehole” against the golfer who earned him millions – Terry is likely to be withdrawn from the Spanish inquisition.
But reports suggest the 30-year-old from Barking, no stranger to controversy, will be recalled from the subsequent friendly against Sweden four days later. Terry's team-mate Frank Lampard looks likely to take the captain's armband against Spain - with memories of previous friendlies against the Iberians spoiled by racial chants.
Sunday, 6 November 2011
The difference between Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows? Benni McCarthy. The man who can't stop scoring
Gordon Igesund can sum up in two words why his high-flying Moroka Swallows came tumbling back down to earth against Orlando Pirates at the Dobsonville Stadium on Saturday night: “Benni McCarthy”.
The exquisitely experienced 55-year-old Dube Birds boss was unlucky not to steal a win off the Sea Robbers when Soweto’s oldest pairing met in the League last Wednesday. A last-gasp very Happy Jele equaliser after a spectacular Moneeb Josephs save denied the Swallows three points.
But in this Telkom Knock-Out clash four days later, there was big, bad Benni, the man declared unfit to play in his own World Cup last year, the ridiculed striker who left West Ham under a cloud of fatness jokes earlier this year.
Fit after pulling a hamstring while scoring the early goal against Black Leopards two weeks ago, McCarthy, who turns 34 on November 12, returned to bang home both goals – one a contender for goal of the year - and send his side into the Telkom semi-finals with a dramatic 2-1 quarter-final victory after trailing 1-0 to the Swallows.
Amid calls for South Africa’s top scorer (32 goals in 79 games) to be recalled for next Saturday’s Bafana Bafana friendly against the Ivory Coast in Port Elizabeth, McCarthy banged a long-range free-kick past Greg Etafia – you won’t see many better than that 35-yard scorcher – and followed it with the killer second goal 11 minutes from time when Luvhengo Mungomeni – scorer of the Birds’ opener – was robbed by a piratical Oupa Manyisa, who slid Benni in for the winner.
Igesund, who guided the Pirates to League glory in 2001, sighed afterwards: “I knew it. He was always going to be a problem for us. Benni’s a class act. He was the difference today, the difference between us winning and them winning.
"Benni doesn’t just score, he holds up the ball nicely and brings other players to the game."
The only South African currently in possession of a Champions League winners’ medal – McCarthy came on as a sub for Jose Mourinho’s Porto when they crushed Monaco 3-0 in 2004 – said: “We have a never-say-die attitude at the Buccaneers. When we were trailing 1-0 people thought we were dead and buried but there is unity among these Pirates!”
As for his international recall, McCarthy shrugged: “You don't want to be having old throngs hanging around the national team. You don't want players like myself, Bhele(Siyabonga Nomvethe), (Macbeth) Sibaya and Sibusiso Zuma.
“We've passed it now. Now is the time where they should be building a new talent of players.”
And on the longevity of his future, Benni said: “I'm taking it step by step, but it's important to keep myself fit. I have to be careful and not push myself to the point where I will get injured again.”
McCarthy’s timely brace takes the former Seven Stars, Ajax, Celta Vigo, Blackburn Rovers and West Ham striker to five goals for the season despite the predictable injuries and suspensions incurred since his surprise signing for Irvin Khosa’s Pirates. I make that 191 professional goals so far in his career spanning 16 years – that’s an average of about 12 per season.
Buccaneers Brazilian boss Julio Leal, under immense pressure ever since he took over from treble-winning Dutchman Ruud Krol at the start of the season, is now looking good for a second trophy – the Telkom was the only one to elude them last season - after the Pirates successfully defended their MTN8 title.
Leal said: “That was a good game of football, attacking from both teams. Overall I was happy with the commitment shown by our players.
“Benni is a very smart player with experience. I think he is really an outstanding player. He has not been able to perform as much as he is capable of because of his fitness level after the injuries, but if we can get him to recover completely and put him in the best possible shape, he will be amazing to watch."
Pirates go into the semi-final draw with Cape Town outsiders Santos – they put out Phokeng’s Platinum Stars 5-3 on a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw at Athlone - along with Golden Arrows - surprise winners over Ajax Cape Town - and Wits, who saw off the League’s bottom club Jomo Cosmos.
In direct contrast Soweto rivals Kaizer Chiefs - who had their defence of the Telkom ruined by Platinum Stars a fortnight ago – found themselves without a game on a weekend when they were rapped over the knuckles by the PSL Disciplinary Committee for “failing to submit a teamsheet within the stipulated time” before their exit against the Platinum Stars. They were reprimanded and warned against repeating the offence.
Thursday, 3 November 2011
Steven Pienaar was last night included in Pitso Mosimane’s Bafana Bafana squad for the Nelson Mandela Challenge against Ivory Coast on November 23 – before making his first start of the season for an under-strength Tottenham in their Europa League clash at Russian outfit Rubin Kazan.
Mosimane’s announcement will provide South Africa’s captain with a brief distraction – and a welcome chance of actually getting on the field.
Pienaar, player of the season at Everton just two seasons ago, admits his move to Tottenham Hostpur has turned into a “nightmare” and that he feels he is “bottom of the pile” at a club blessed with an abundance of talented midfielders.
Last night he twittered: “It's always hard coming to a new club and getting injured but I'm determined to prove my worth to the spurs fans. Greetings from Kazan.”
Last January, as 29-year-old Pienaar let his Everton contract dwindle to a conclusion under the guidance of agent Rob “You’d better apologise” Moore, Chelsea nearly swept in to claim the Johannesburg-born midfielder in a cut-price move.
Spurs prevailed and Moore’s most important asset went to White Hart Lane for just £2m (R24m). When I queried the agent’s eagerness to move his client from Goodison Park to White Hart Lane’s over-populated midfield, Moore told me: “It’s Steven’s decision, he wants to play Champions League football. Everton aren’t ambitious enough.”
When I quoted him on that, Moore demanded I send an apology to Everton surpemo Bill Kenwright. I did. And that’s the last I heard from Mr Moore.
Spurs failed to qualify for the Champions League last season – with Manchester City spending like Julius Malema in Mauritius that was always on the cards - and Pienaar’s career has slumped as I predicted when he decided to take a pay rise rather than stay loyal to Everton and their adoring fans.
It isn’t all Moore’s fault. An ironic clash of heads with fellow South African Bongani Khumalo was the first major blow as the two Bafana Bafana internationals trained together at Chigwell. Both joined the club in January and Khumalo, represented by Moore’s partner Glyn “No Reply” Binkin, has yet to play for the Spurs first team – the former Supersports United captain has since gone out on loan to Championship also-rans Reading and, like Pienaar, is struggling to get a game.
Pienaar, one of the first names on Everton boss David Moyes’ team-sheets for three seasons, has played just 12 games for Harry Redknapp since January, with his Bongani-bonking concussion in February followed by a groin injury in April.
When the new season began, Pienaar and Khumalo came out to South Africa with Spurs for the Vodacom Challenge full of promise – but Pienaar’s groin flared up in their final pre-season friendly against Athletic Bilbao. The specialist recommended surgery which ruled the lad from Westbury out until mid-September.
All that is history. But exactly what has happened to Pienaar since then? He didn’t feature in South Africa’s embarrassing CAF exit at the hands of Sierra Leone last month and with West Ham’s Scott Parker added to Redknapp’s midfield and Gareth Bale excelling on Pienaar’s favoured left-hand side, he has yet to play in the first team.
Pienaar, who finally got a start in last night’s low-key clash in Russia, admits: “It's been the most difficult period of my career. When you join a new team, you want to start fully fit but I got injured quite early and it slowed down my progress.
“Before the operation we thought we would wait and see how the groin injury developed but it just got worse. I had the operation, things were going well, but then I had two setbacks. Sometimes when you try to get back early, that happens.
“But I'm over the nightmare now so hopefully I can get back in the side.”
Redknapp was unable to impress Redknapp first hand last night – the 64-year-old was in hostpital recovering from “minor heart surgery” and assistant Kevin Bond was left in charge. But Pienaar remains determined to resurrect his career: “When you get injured, you fall down the pecking order. You are basically the bottom of the pile. I have been working to win a place in the team.
“You have to make sure you get fit, be patient and train hard.“
Whether Bafana Bafana fans will actually see Pienaar in action against the mighty Ivorians next Saturday at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth – and in a friendly against Zimbabwe away three days later – remains to be seen. Given his current plight, he may just fly out because he needs a game.
But don’t hold your breath. Despite the FIFA rules, a recuperating Redknapp will decide to captains Bafana, not Pitso Mosimane.
Goalkeepers: Moeneeb Josephs, Wayne Sandilands.
Defenders: Tsepo Masilela, Punch Masenamela, Musa Bilankulu, Morgan Gould, Bongani Khumalo, Siyabonga Sangweni, Happy Jele, Anele Ngcongca, Bevan Fransman, Siboniso Gaxa.
Midfielders: Daylon Claasen, Hlompho Kekana, Oupa Manyisa, Thanduyise Khuboni, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Granwald Scott, George Maluleka, George Lebese, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Teko Modise, Steven Pienaar.
Strikers: Kermit Erasmus, Siyabonga Nontshinga, Brad Grobler, Katlego Mphela.
Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Terry set to lose England captaincy over Ferdinand race slurs as one veteran insists: "Racism is rife in English Premier League"
Chelsea defender John Terry looks likely to lose the England captaincy – not for the first time – when the FA announce the result of their probe into his racist slurs against Anton Ferdinand this week.
Allegations were made after QPR upset Chelsea 1-0 in a high-tension clash at Loftus Road on October 23 which featured two red cards for Terry’s team. Youtube footage – since removed by the Premier League – shows Terry appearing to mouth “Fucking black cunt” at Ferdinand during the match.
Terry admits to using the phrase but insisted he only shouted the abuse in response to an on-field allegation from Ferdinand - but the brother of Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand says he is “stunned” by Terry's account of the controversy.
Terry argued the TV footage had missed out the full sentence and misconstrued its meaning and said he would “never do such a thing”, explaining how the pair had met up after the game to settle the matter.
Ferdinand admits he never heard Terry’s racist remarks at the time and insists the first he knew about the row – which erupted on the social networks shortly after the final whistle - was when Chelsea’s England full-back Ashley Cole came into the QPR dressing room and told Ferdinand that Terry wanted to talk to him.
A Rangers source said: "Anton went to see JT, who explained some video footage had appeared on the internet that made it look as though he had said something racist.
"JT strongly denied saying such a thing and said to Anton 'Everything's cool between us, isn't it?'
"Anton, who at that stage didn't really know what JT was talking about, said everything was fine and that there was no problem."
Moments later though, Ferdinand himself watched the footage on his mobile phone.
The QPR man told The People, a Sunday tabloid: “I didn’t know racism still existed in football until last weekend. I thought we were past all that here. I had no idea it had happened until I left the ground. It was pretty shocking. It’s crazy, I can’t believe it.
“I don’t need to say anything, it’s all on YouTube, everyone can see what he said. What do you think he said? Look, it’s with the FA now.”
A week before the Ferdinand/Terry clash, Manchester United fullback Patrice Evra made allegations of racist abuse against Uruguayan Luis Suarez in the 1-1 draw against Liverpool.
Ferdinand is reported to have “resisted the temptation” to publish a blow-by-blow account of his clash with Terry. He chose to back the FA probe into the affair.
In a statement this week, Ferdinand said: "Today, I finalised my report to the Football Association with regards to the incident that occurred last Sunday at Loftus Road in our Premier League fixture against Chelsea.
"I have very strong feelings on the matter, but in the interests of fairness and not wishing to prejudice what I am sure will be a very thorough inquiry by the FA, this will be my last comment on the subject until the inquiry is concluded."
The row has even moved to Belgium, where the notoriously powerful Chelsea media officers refused to allow questions from journalists about the race row in their press conference before the Champions League clash against Genk. Terry may be “rested” for that game as the investigation rumbles on.
Though the FA in England have led a “Kick It Out” campaign against racism over the past five years, Blackburn’s veteran striker Jason Roberts sums up the real situation in the English Premier League.
He said: "Is racial abuse something that used to happen all the time? Absolutely. In my 14-year career, I've had it numerous times. More times than I can count.
“It has certainly slowed down recently. But for people to say they can't believe this has happened, let me tell them this has happened throughout my career at all levels of the game. The battle isn't won. People still need educating.
"If it can be proven people have been doing this and it's caught on camera, they have to be punished. We cannot allow for this to be seen to be OK.
"My uncle Cyrille Regis, who played in the 70s and 80s, put up with disgusting abuse and just dealt with it like I just dealt with it.
"I think in this day and age we need to change that. It's not acceptable. Some people think they do stuff like this to put you off your game and that it's fair game. They say 'I'm not really like that, some of my best friends are black'.
"Well it's not good enough because there are kids watching and people in the crowd."
Ferdinand has since been subjected to racist abuse from Terry supporters on Twitter but he insists: "Of course, it's been strenuous — but it's football as usual as far as I'm concerned. I've been focusing on nothing other than playing for my club."
Terry lost the England captaincy before the 2010 World Cup over allegations that he had an affair with former Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge’s partner Vanessa Peroncel. He has also been involved in a series of controversies involving his mother – who was charged with shop-lifting along with his mother-in-law – and his father, who was caught on video by the now-defunct News of the World conducting a drugs deal.